The House won’t quickly finish business today.
On the agenda is SB 731 to prevent employers from asking a worker for COVID-19 vaccination status and to allow damage lawsuits against any employer who’s deemed to have retaliated against a worker.
Rep. Jeff Wardlaw objected that the bill was not germane because a reference to American Rescue Act money in the bill as a potential fund to award damage payments is essentially irrelevant because consultants have said the money can’t be used for that purpose. On his motion, House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, who has ruled the bill germane, ordered that the bill be sent to the Rules Committee to review that issue. Before the committee’s meeting, parliamentary squabbling continued on the House Floor and it finally required a roll call vote to uphold Shepherd’s decision to send the question to the Rules Committee for review. After extended discussion with the parade of familiar anti-vaxxers quibbling over word meaning and invoking the Lord, the committee on a voice vote said the bill was NOT germane, thus overruling the House Speaker.
Now the question returns to the House, where all the members can debate whether it is germane.
Supporters of the bill, including Rep. Joshua Bryant, want the bill heard and adopted. This, despite the fact that the House committee heard testimony yesterday that this bill will effectively override Bryant’s earlier bill that authorizes a testing exception to employers’ vaccination rules. Under SB 731, which Bryant is also sponsoring, an employer couldn’t ask a worker about vaccination to know whether a testing exception was in order.
Wardlaw said the consultant on the law was prepared to make clear in the Rules Committee that the money may not be used as the legislation provides. Opponents quibble that “may,” in one part of the consultant’s report doesn’t mean “shall.” But Rep. Michelle Gray said the report went on to say flatly that the Rescue Act could not be used to compensate workers who didn’t comply with workplace rules.
The resolution under which the legislature recessed to return to consider congressional redistricting bills also allowed the legislature to take up matters related to the pandemic AND expenditure of American Rescue Act money. As Rep. Jeff Wardlaw pointed out, the sponsor, Sen. Bob Ballinger, added a reference to Rescue Act money to his original bill to try to make it qualify for being heard, though there is no such money available and likely won’t be.
The politics are complicated today by several absent House members. They’ve cast paired ballots on the bill itself, but aren’t able to vote on the procedural motions now under debate. There’s at least some sentiment to recess the House for three hours so they can get to Little Rock to vote on a motion that ultimately decides whether the bill can be considered or not. Advocates of the bill said the procedural issues were being raised to kill the bill, which is, of course, true.
My head hurts.